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A Top Abu Ghraib Officer Is Charged

April 29, 2006|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Army filed 12 charges Friday against the former head of the interrogation center at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, making him the highest-ranking officer to face criminal prosecution in the abuse scandal.

Only one of the charges accuses Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan with direct involvement in cruelty toward Iraqi prisoners, alleging he subjected detainees "to forced nudity and intimidation by military working dogs."

The other charges largely mirror findings of an initial 2003 Army investigation into the prison by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who found that Jordan misled investigators and was lax in his training and supervision of soldiers under his command. Those failures "resulted in the abuse of Iraqi detainees," Friday's charges state.

An Army spokesman said Jordan, an Army reservist who has been on active duty for 3 1/2 years, could be sentenced to 42 years in prison if convicted on all charges. The lawyer assigned to his case did not return calls seeking comment.

The charges mark the first time a commissioned officer has been criminally charged in the Abu Ghraib case and are the latest sign that legal pressure on senior officers connected to the abuse scandal is intensifying.

The only other high-ranking officer to be officially reprimanded thus far is Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the commander of the military intelligence brigade at Abu Ghraib and Jordan's immediate superior. Pappas was fined $8,000 and relieved of his command but was not criminally charged.

Ten low-ranking soldiers have been convicted or have pleaded guilty in the scandal, including dog handler Sgt. Michael J. Smith, who was convicted last month. Pappas testified under a grant of immunity at Smith's trial that Pappas had incorrectly approved use of a military dog in a prison interrogation because he misunderstood guidelines put in place by his commanding officer.

In addition to the charge of cruelty to prisoners, Jordan was charged with two counts of disobeying orders, three counts of dereliction of duty, and four counts of lying to investigators or interfering with their inquiry. Two fraud charges, unrelated to Abu Ghraib, allege that he inflated claims for auto-repair expenses.

At Abu Ghraib, Jordan supervised the interrogation task force. According to accounts from those around him, he sometimes worked to exhaustion, losing his composure and contributing to the chaotic situation at the crowded, understaffed facility, The Times has previously reported.

Jordan has invoked his right to avoid self-incrimination when he has been called to testify in courts-martial of lower-ranking soldiers charged in connection with Abu Ghraib. But his sworn statements claim that Pappas shouldered him with too much responsibility and failed to supervise him.

In Pappas' sworn statements, he called Jordan a "loner" and said, "I failed in not reining him in."

Friday's charge sheet alleges that Jordan repeatedly lied to investigators about his involvement in the abuse case. The charges claim, for example, that in February 2004 he told Taguba: "I never saw nude detainees, never knew of any dogs being used in interrogations, never supervised anybody guarding and/or doing interrogations in that facility." The charge sheet alleges he made similar denials to investigators in April and May of 2004.

The charges allege that Jordan was derelict in his duty to train and supervise his subordinates, and that such dereliction directly led to the abuse of detainees. He also allegedly failed to get approval from the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq at the time, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, to use military working dogs in interrogations.

Jordan now faces a preliminary hearing akin to a grand jury session in a civilian court. An Army spokesman said a date would be set that would give Jordan's defense attorneys time to prepare for the case. If the hearing, called an Article 32, upholds the charges, Jordan will face a court-martial.

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